The Parable of the Church and the Goldmine


Why a Charlotte Church Sits on a Development Goldmine

Paul had a difficult decision to make.

He is the lay leader of a local church, and his church had valuable real estate on a prominent road in Charlotte. The area was growing rapidly all around it, and it was apparent to everyone driving past that the church was falling into disrepair.

Over the years, the church did an admirable job of leasing space to nonprofits and neighborhood support groups to help offset facility expenses. But now there were expensive capex projects needed: the mechanical systems were constantly on the fritz, the roof leaked, and the walls showed mildew.

But that wasn’t even the worst part. Attendance had dropped significantly to between 30 and 40 people per Sunday—and this was pre-pandemic.

Many people who went to church were elderly, and the building’s lack of accessibility made it hard for them to get around.

Paul had a difficult decision about the future of the congregation and the facility.

He underwent a long process of discernment. He and the facilities committee carefully considered their options and weighed the pros and cons of each one, taking into account the spiritual, emotional, and practical effects. 

After much deliberation, they decided to take action. They talked to a few different developers, brokers, and consultants and ultimately were referred to me by a friend whom Cardinal had helped in the past.

He confessed he was worried about how to make this decision. What would be the fallout? How could he be sure he was doing the right thing for the congregation? Would they get upset with him? What if he made the wrong decision? 

…All normal questions and totally understandable given the situation. 

The sad thing is Paul’s not the only one with problems like these.

In Charlotte, we are blessed with many great churches on prominent corners around the city. In recent years, for a variety of reasons, congregations have shrunk. Donations have declined, and the cost of maintaining older facilities is going through the roof. Many of these churches aren’t as solvent as they once were. 

Lay leaders like Paul and others in decision-making roles must figure out WHAT to do, WHERE to turn, or WHO to turn to. They feel lost, confused, and overwhelmed.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I shared an insider secret with Paul, and I’ll share it with you, too.. It’s called The Deal Canvas™. 

It is a proven and tried-and-tested method for having difficult conversations around important commercial real estate assets.  

Paul and I worked through The Deal Canvas™ together. I started by asking him the “DSQ” exercise and quickly got to the goals of the congregation, what was keeping him up at night, and the special history that his congregation had in the growing community.

Then, Cardinal Partners gave Paul a report with a dozen examples of how churches were redeveloped in different parts of the country. By working with developers or building on their own, the uses included senior living, affordable housing, new churches, and even a mixed-use.

Paul loved it, because it was critical that the church continues its mission to the parishioners and other stakeholders in the community. Paul wanted to revitalize the corner. The area desperately needed affordable housing and a little retail for the immediate neighborhood.

So we brought in other consultants, such as engineers, to help us understand the site’s constraints. We found obstacles such as cell tower leases that needed to be renegotiated, relocated streams and buffers, and setbacks and neighborhood concerns, not to mention navigating Charlotte’s new zoning ordinance.

At the end of the day, we developed a plan for a new and exciting project on the corner that showed a legacy of the important work that the congregation had done in the past and a bright future for sustainable development that dovetailed nicely with the mission of Paul’s congregation.

It was a hugely satisfying result for everyone involved… and could have easily gone in a different direction. 

Perhaps, like Paul, you have been in a similar situation. Maybe when you had to make a big, complex decision, you felt that you overpaid and the consultant or broker underdelivered. Maybe you felt taken advantage of and, dare I say, conned. 

If you or someone you know is facing a difficult decision and you want to talk to a trusted ally for some guidance, we’re here for you. Give us a call or shoot us an email any time, and we’ll help you make those difficult decisions.

P.S. Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, John, I’ve heard ALL this before; what makes you so special and trustworthy?” 

Well, I’m glad you asked.

We are paid and compensated as consultants, so you can be sure you’re getting pure advice. We don’t have a conflict of interest or skin in the game should there be a future transaction or a development period. We ensure confidentiality with sensitive matters, and our experience and knowledge are unrivaled. 

Our reputation over the past 20 years has indicated that we can be trusted, and we have been so by a broad spectrum of private and public institutions. We only survive on our reputation, so if you lose, we lose, and if we are successful, so are you

Real estate transactions can be fraught with frustration and pitfalls.

Sometimes the hardest part turns out to be working with your broker, the person who is supposed to help you through the complexities. Veteran commercial real estate broker and client advisor John Culbertson discovered that brokers’ interests aren’t always aligned with those of their clients. He realized there was a better way to advocate for clients and get the deal done.


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